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The Effects of Sound Symbolism in Brand Names

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The Effects of Sound Symbolism in Brand Names Bachelor thesis Tilburg School of Humanities Communication and information science Business Communication and Digital Media Mentors: Dr. M. (Marie) Postma
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The Effects of Sound Symbolism in Brand Names Bachelor thesis Tilburg School of Humanities Communication and information science Business Communication and Digital Media Mentors: Dr. M. (Marie) Postma Dr. E. (Leonoor) Oversteegen J.J.G. Meijer S Foreword 4 Abstract 5 1. Branding Brand names Cognitive Categorizing Brand name memory The evoked set The effects of Phonetic Symbolism Denotation Linguistic attributes Modality Dual Route Model Dual Route Model and Modality Sound Symbolism Categorizing by phonetic gender expectations Phonemes The Frequency Code Summary Modality and perception of Sound Symbolism 16 2 Denotative and non-denotative brand names Modality and perceived masculinity/femininity Method Participants 2.2. Design Instrumentation Procedure Results Conclusion Discussion References 26 7 Appendix Brand names Questionnaire Division of participants 31 3 Foreword After a delay in my Bachelor study, I finally got permission to start my Bachelor thesis. I have always been interested in advertisement. In our contemporary society, everybody is confronted with a large quantity of advertisements, commercials and new products. Therefore, creating a good brand name is crucial for the survival of a new brand. Therefore, when I got the chance to investigate the concept of Sound Symbolism in branding, I was thrilled to have this opportunity. I would like to show my gratitude to Marie Postma who has helped me intensively during the writing of my thesis. I would also like to thank Leonoor Oversteegen who has guided me as well during this period. I would like to them thank both for always making time for me and giving me the best advice. 4 Abstract In our contemporary society branding is a growing market. Therefore it is crucial for marketeers to develop a brand name which people associate with their matching products. This means trying to create a brand name which outlines the core aspects of the product and makes people believe these core aspects are better than those of the competitor. Sound Symbolism can be effective in creating a good brand name. According to the so called Frequency Code, high pitch vowels and voiceless consonants are associated with femininity (friendliness, lightness and compliance) while low pitch vowels and voiced consonants are associated with masculinity (unfriendliness, dominance and self-assurance). If so, this effect needs to be taken into consideration when a new brand name is being created. However, a difference needs to be made between denotative (suggestive) and non- denotative (non suggestive) brand names. In particular, the Dual Route Model of word recognition predicts that denotative words are processed through the lexical route whereas non- denotative words go through the graphemephenome route. This means that with respect to Sound Symbolism, it should have a bigger effect than denotative words. Moreover, we might expect that a denotative brand name will be processed differently when heard opposed to read. In this research, we report the perception of brand names of 64 Dutch native speakers. The experimental data support the perditions of the Frequency Code and the Dual Route Model. Keywords: Sound Symbolism, Denotation, Frequency Code, Dual Route Model, Modality, Brand name, Grapheme-to-Phoneme, Cognitive dissonance, Analogue Scales 5 1. Branding Brand names Marketeers try to create a positive brand association among consumers. There has been a significant increase in the growth of new brand names being introduced to the market place. Argo, Popa & Smith (2010) report in their research about brands that in 2005 more than applications for trademarks were submitted to the United States. This is more than twice as much than ten years before in Research done by Interbrand (2010) shows the top 10 brands of the world in Table 1 shows the top 10 brand names of Table 1: Top 10 Brand names well known brand names of the United States off the year Coca Cola 2 IBM 3 Microsoft 4 Google 5 GE 6 McDonald s 7 Intel 8 Nokia 9 Disney 10 HP 6 Because the competition is large, it is very important for a marketeer creating a new brand that it stands out from the crowd. Therefore it is important for marketeers to give extra meaning to brand names. This can be done by using an iterative jingle or using the same (distinctive) voice when displaying a commercial. When a new product is launched, marketeers want people to notice the product, remember it and have positive associations towards the new product. That is why the concept of branding is used to give the product surplus values over competitors. Branding stands for giving meaning to a name, symbol or other new object to create positive feelings about your brand. According to Kotler & Pfoertsch (2006), a brand represents the totality of thoughts and perceptions people have about a product. Including the information people hear and read about the product, business or service. Looking at the top 10 brands of the world in 2010, this means, for example, that McDonald s does not only stand for a place where people can purchase fast food. Taking a look at their well known M logo brings much more to mind. When thinking of McDonald s, cheerful playing children eating happy meals come to mind, just as well as obesity, the Ronald McDonald children fond and their one euro offers. A brand name thus brings much more to mind than a particular product. It brings up experiences, associations and expectations Cognitive categorizing People will always try to make their life easier by cognitively categorize information. People will automatically link pieces of information to already stored information which associates with this. Kotler & Pfoertsch (2006) describe in their book of business to business branding that a brand holds a distinctive position in customers minds which is based on past experiences, associations made on bases of the brand and expectation that the future might hold for them. Therefore, branding moderates the ability of people to give a category analysis over products or services. The more people associate attributes of a product with the correct brand, the more influence the brand image has on the capability of people to remember the brand (Baker, 2003). Festinger (1985) explained in his research about cognitive psychology that people try to remain cognitively stable. This means that people selectively search and interpret new information in such a way that it corresponds to the line of thoughts people already have. If this for any reason 7 may not be the case, a person finds himself in a position of dissonance. Dissonance is psychologically uncomfortable. People will try to reduce this dissonance to change it in to consonance Brand Name Memory Lowrey, Shrum & Dubitsky (2003), in their research about brand name memory, note that an effective and well manufactured brand name makes consumers remember products or services better. Therefore, marketeers try to make people associate brand names with their products. This means trying to create a brand name which outlines the core aspects of the product and makes people believe these core aspects are better than the core aspects of the competitor. Cleary, linguistic attributes can make or break a brand. Therefore, it is crucial for marketeers to put as much time and effort as possible in creating a strong and positive brand name. For marketeers it is of great significance to overview every letter, sound and visual aspect of a brand name before introducing it to the market place. Taking the above in consideration, a brand name is more than just a name; it is a recapitulation of an entire product or service The evoked set It is crucial to get your brand name in the evoked set of potential buyers. Howard and Sheth (1969) (refer to that as the set of brands that the buyer considers acceptable for his next purchase. According to Brisoux (1981) a brand would be evaluated as being in the evoked set if it the brand were considered for a possible future purchase and if it is also evaluated as positively by this person. The opposite of this for a brand, is being in the inept set. This means the brand is not considered as a possible purchase in the future and is evaluated negatively. It is very important for marketeers to make sure their brand does not end up in the inept. Once a brand is cognitively stored in the inept set, it is virtually impossible to get restored in the evoked set. For example, the three months lasting oil spill caused by BP (British Petroleum) is still causing the company great economical damage for it is still very vivid in everyone s mind. The last option available for a brand is ending up in the inert set. This means a brand is neither accepted nor rejected. People have no clear meaning about the brand; they do not evaluate the 8 brand positively or negatively. People are indifferent of brands that are stored in the inert set. Brands in the inert set are seen as having no particular advantage. These brands are not considered because people have no outspoken attitudes towards these brands. To get in the evoked set, the consumers must first be aware of the existence of the brand and be able to recall it in their memory. This can be done by frequent brand name mentions within the ad, frequent placements of ads in various media or linking brand names to celebrity endorsers. (Lowrey, Shrum & Dubtisky, 2003). This is not possible for every marketeer, because marketeers depend on financial resources and probably connections. Another way to do this is to create a brand name so powerful and unique; people will unconsciously have positive feelings toward it and might consider it for a future purchase The effects of Phonetic symbolism A brand name consists of different compositions lexemes, sounds and sometimes even numbers. Coulter & Coulter (2010) investigated in their research about phonetic symbolism, whether certain vowel and consonant sounds could be associated with perception of small or large sizes. In their research they tried to examine the effects of sensory- related stimulus. By sensory- related stimulus is mend the sounds associated with particular numbers. They hypothesized that in case of phonetic symbolism effects, a sound related phonological representation might interfere or reinforce with the encoding of a numeric- value- related analogue magnitude representation. Coulter & Coulter (2010) investigated there research among two hundred graduate and undergraduate students. Results show that phonemes that sound small are automatically perceived as small. This shows that sound symbolism in brand names can have a large effect on consumer s perception. Taking this in consideration, marketeers could enhance their brand perception among consumers by using the right numbers, sounds and vowels in their brands and prices. As this research shows, the phonetic symbolism marketeers use to refer to their brands are of great importance on consumers brand perception. Taking the above in consideration, an effective brand name is of mayor importance. The next few paragraphs will outline which aspects and attributes are important to create a good brand name and what the consequences are when these criteria are not met. 9 1.2 Denotation Linguistic attributes Being able to produce the best products and use celebrity endorses to launch of brands can magnificently contribute to the future successes of a brands. For good branding it is therefore important to have a competitive brand name linked to products or services which claim to be the best. Lowry, Shrum & Debutisky (2003) confirm in their research that the features of the brand name itself might also contribute to the brands success. The linguistic attributes of the brand name may enhance the easiness in which the brand name is recalled or recognized. They say that there are several ways to obtain memorability through linguistic features in brand names. One way to obtain this is through conveying meaningfulness. Lowrey, Shrum & Dubtisky (2003), define meaningfulness as a combination of various attributes of a word. Some of the attributes giving meaning to a word (in this case a brand name) include frequency in the language, the ability of a word to evoke imagery and semantic associability (Paivio, 1971). One way to do this is by creating a denotative brand name with the product or service named in the brand name. Like Burger in Burger King. Robertson (1989) states that an easily imagined name helps in generating a larger, more extensive and more elaborate set of cognitions than a name which is abstract Modality Because our society has developed from a self pacing manner to conduct information (e.g. newspapers and magazines) to a non self pacing society of conducting information (television and internet banners) the question rises is whether the modality in which the brand name is perceived (reading vs. listening) affects brand perception. Argo, Popa & Smith (2010) stated in their research about the sounds of brands, that when audibly exposed to a brand name, which has a phonetic structure containing sound repetition, consumers will experience positive effect, which in turn will favourably influence consumer decisions. In their research they suppose that hearing a brand name spoken aloud will influence consumers responses. In particular, they predict that brand names containing sound repetition will be more apparent when a consumer 10 hears versus simply sees the name. In their research, 74 native English speaking undergraduate students from a North American university were investigated to find out the effects of sounds in brands. Two pairs of ice cream brand names were invented. To make sure that the only differentiating element within each ice cream brand pair was whether sound repetition was absent or present, the researchers matched vowels and consonants according to their phonetic characteristics. Each brand name pair consisted of a brand name containing sound repetition and a brand name that did not contain sound repetition. The brand names containing sound repetition were sepsop and temasema. The brand names that did not contain sound repetition were sepfut and temafu. Each participant was exposed to one of the two pairs. Participants would either have to read it out loud or to themselves. After this, the participants had to taste both ice creams. What they did not know was that both ice creams were the same but only carried a different name. Participants then evaluated the ice creams on several seven point scales. The results of their study revealed that a brand was evaluated most favourably when its name contained phonetic sound repetition and was spoken aloud. Also, the modality in which these brands will be perceived can make a huge different in consumer brand perception Dual Route Model Coltheart (2006) reported that there are two ways how people understand the meaning of words. He explains this by using the Dual Route Model. Harley (2007) shows that because of the Dual Route Model we can assemble pronunciations for words or non words we have never seen before (in the context of branding: denotative and non-denotative brands), yet also pronounce correctly irregular words that must needs information specific to those words (that is, lexical information). The first way information can be processed is through the orthographic lexicon, also known as the lexical route. The lexicon represents the knowledge about the visual form of the words being processed. People hear an existing word and identify the word based on its spelling and previous experiences with the word. Denotative brand names will most likely be processed through this route because people already have knowledge about denotative parts of the brand name. This means they are familiar with these words though past experiences. The 11 second way to process words is the non- lexical or sub lexical procedure, also referred to as the grapheme-phoneme correspondence route. Non suggestive brand names will go through this route because people have to give meaning to the brand name. This is also called phonological recoding. Which route will be taken to come to a meaningful state depends on how much of the brand name is already present in the mental lexicon. Non- denotative brand names will eventually be understood by people just like denotative words which go through the lexical route. Figure 1 shows the Dual Route model. Figure 1: The Dual Route Model Harley (2007).s Dual Route Model and modality According to the Dual route Model (Harley, 2007) the pronunciation of all non words (non denotative words) should be assembled using the grapheme- phenome route. According to the Dual Route model it also matters whether people hear or read words and whether these words are denotative or non denotative. According to this model it does not matter for non denotative words whether they are heard or read because they are processed through the grapheme-phoneme route, which helps people translate fonts in to sounds. However, this is not the same for denotative words. Because these words will be processed through the lexicon route, it does matter whether these words are heard or read. Figure 2 shows the Dual Route Model with the effect of perceived modality implemented. 12 Figure 2. The Dual route Model An extended view of the Dual Route Model including the difference in hearing and reading. Within the lexical route, people use their orthographic lexicon which is a collection of words (personal dictionary) assembled throughout someone s life. Words that are denotative and are received through reading will be dissectioned and analyzed by its spelling through this orthographic lexicon. This contains words like toothbrush. Because this word contains two existing words, tooth and brush which are already stored in the lexicon. People immediately recognize that the brush part is used to brush their teeth. Non- denotative words and denotative words perceived by hearing will go to through the grapheme-to-phenomene route. This is also known as the sublexical route. In here words are separated in to their smallest sound units. The sub lexical route alters and transforms these sound units in to sounds to give it lexical meaning. With previous definitions, the following is hypothesized: The modality in which brand names are perceived has an effect on the perception of Sound Symbolism of denotative brand names but not non denotative brand names. 13 1.3 Sound Symbolism Categorizing by phonetic gender expectations In the context of branding, people will try to link masculine brand names to masculine products to achieve consonance. This will be the same for feminine brand names and feminine products. For marketeers it is therefore important to create brand names which people atomically associate with the right product or service. If by any reason marketeers do not achieve this, people will probably feel cognitive dissonant which leads to negative feelings towards the brand. Therefore, it is of great importance for marketeers to create brand names for their products or services, which corresponds with the gender of their potential consumers Phonemes Argo, Popa & Smith (2010) state that Sound Symbolism refers to the notion that the sound of a words, separated from its connotation, conveys meaning. This requires dividing words in to their smallest units. These units are called phonemes. Argo, Popa & Smith (2010) refer to Sapir (1929) to the earliest demonstration of this phenomenon. Back in 1929 people were presented with a pair of words (e.g. mil and mal ), which only differed by the middle value. This is the character in the middle of the word, the i in mil and the a in mal. After being exposed to this quite similar looking words, 80% of the participants agreed that the word mal referred to a large object, while the word mil referred to a small object. This effect, often referred to a Phonetic Symbolism has recently been tested by C
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